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21.05.18

Use cancelled electrification savings to boost Welsh transport, say MPs

Savings from the cancelled electrification scheme should fund a Welsh transport boost, the Welsh Affairs Committee has said.

The committee argued that there is a “stark gap” in funding between Wales and other parts of the UK.

Committee chair, David Davies, said: “The failures in planning and delivery of the Great Western line, and in particular the stretch between Cardiff and Swansea, are well known. Projected costs and benefits were completely out of sync with reality.”

Despite 11% of the UK rail network running through Wales, just 1.5% of the money spent on rail enhancements is received by Wales, according to the Welsh government, which has also warned that the economic boost of HS2 for England could have a knock-on effect of reducing employment growth in Wales.

Cancelling the electrification project has created savings of at least £433m and the committee has said that the UK government should work with the Welsh government to identify cost-effective transport projects to spend the saved money on.

The committee argued that the electrification of the Swansea to Cardiff route would not provide a significant improvement to journey times, unless the line was straightened (allowing trains to travel at greater speeds) which it says the cost and benefits of should be investigated.

In a more radical proposal to reduce journey times between the two cities, the committee said that a new route via Baglan would almost halve journey times from 55 minutes to half an hour and should be explored.

Davies explained: “It is calculated that the cancellation of the rail electrification between Cardiff and Swansea has saved the government hundreds of millions of pounds, and this money can’t simply go back in the pot.

“Wales cannot have the only stretch of the line not to be improved then see the money saved go towards Crossrail 2 or the Northern Powerhouse. The money saved must be spent here in Wales.”

The committee called the planning work and project management for the upgrade of the stretch of line “superficial”, with surveys not providing an adequate picture of the work needed to be undertaken.

It said that Network Rail had failed to anticipate the bridges along the route that would need to be raised to accommodate the required electrical infrastructure and that the Department for Transport (DfT) did not develop a consolidated business case for the Great Western modernisation programme until a year after work had begun, and two years after new trains had been procured.

Both Network Rail and the DfT have indicated that they are learning lessons and have introduced new approaches to planning work.

The committee has said that they must demonstrate that these processes are robust and that the government must review the effectiveness of its new approach within 12 months, allowing the National Audit Office to provide independent scrutiny of how the processes are operating.

Top image: Joe Dunckley

 

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